Anna’s Journey

Anna & Christine

A year ago last summer, I received this email entitled “Help!” from a woman named Christine –

I have a beautiful draft cross mare named Anna that just turned five. She got her first pair of shoes, but the farrier put on too-small shoes, set her too upright (she has a very draft foot), and her legs swelled overnight! We immediately pulled off the shoes and called a draft farrier (he owns 25 shires), thinking he must understand the foot. He trimmed her, made shoes for the front, put stock shoes on the back, and she went beautifully. But six weeks later she was forging horribly, was reshod, and went terrible all the same. Needless to say she began to lift her head in an effort to rebalance herself (to shorten her own stride to avoid forging) and developed a shoulder issue. Going to the left, her head bobs, which indicate discomfort somewhere (we checked with hoof testers and it’s not in the hoof), and she now does not want to pick up the right canter lead.

I sent pictures and a video to Dr. _____, an equine podiatrist in _____, and he gave me instructions for my farrier. She is going much better, but I would like to keep her barefoot, and after doing research, I know that it’s a different trim. I still think the toe is too long, and at least we have a good start, but not good enough. I have to fix this! Can you help?

The rather amusing thing about the circumstances was that she was referred to me by someone in Colorado, but lives only about a mile down the same road as my horse’s boarding barn. Talk about a roundabout route to find someone! Anyway, when I met Anna, her feet were in bad shape – terribly out of balance, with very little concavity. As Christine now says –

I have owned horses for over 40 years, and had always put shoes on them because it’s considered the standard of care. As such, I put the first pair of shoes on Anna (whom I use primarily for dressage, where precision and balance is of the utmost importance) the week I purchased her, with the above results. Consequently, I had to have a chiropractor and equine massotherapist work on her on numerous occasions to relieve symptoms of pain. We went through 3 very frustrating shoeing cycles before I found Steve Hebrock. After his first trim, her gorgeous movement returned, and she has been trimmed this way for nearly 2 years now without any problems whatsoever.

No magic here, of course – just a proper trim. As I’ve probably said several times on this website before, properly balancing a horse’s hooves does not make the horse move correctly; it allows the horse to move correctly. The goal of trimming is to facilitate proper movement by removing impediments to movement. And excess length, excess weight, and imbalances are all roadblocks to efficient movement. Anna had experienced all of those – the added length and weight of the shoe, which interfere with breakover, the flight arc, and landing; and trim imbalances, which increase the concussive forces at impact (as does the shoe).

Right Front Hoof

Anna’s Right Front Hoof

This article might more accurately be called “Christine’s Journey,” because once we put Anna on the path to soundness and proper movement, we turned our attention to Christine’s other two horses. As she says –

I also have a 4 yr old Paint gelding that a friend is using, and we had put “corrective shoes” on him for a diagnosis of “navicular.” We also pulled his shoes, had him trimmed the natural way, and he has not taken a bad step since.

The issue with how most vets and farriers treat these horses lies with their deliberately unbalancing the foot by raising the horse’s heels with wedge shoes, wedge pads under flat shoes, or both. The intended purpose is to lower strain across the navicular bone as the horse breaks over, but, at least in this engineer’s mind, there are at least four serious flaws in their logic:

  1. The deliberate imbalance caused by raising the heels increases the concussive forces at impact, which are very destructive,
  2. The increased effective hoof length caused by the shoe and pad both delays, and increases the effort required for, breakover, which more than offsets any reduction in deep flexor tendon tension across the navicular bone,
  3. The increased effective weight of the hoof caused by the shoe and pad interferes with the kinematics of the hoof flight arc and landing, increasing both deep flexor tendon strain across the navicular bone and concussive forces at impact, and
  4. The decreased sensation in the hoof caused by the shoe lessens the horse’s awareness of pain, increasing his odds of causing further damage.

I’m working on a much more detailed analysis of the navicular horse and the effects of shoeing, but for now, let’s wrap up this article with Christine’s closing comments –

When I think back on the numerous unexplained issues and problems that I have experienced with other horses over the years, I can’t help but wonder if the shoes were responsible. In fact, I’m quite sure of it now, but no real way to verify it. But I would strongly recommend to anyone on the fence about this method to please do the research. If you’re truly interested in your horses’ health and well being, you will be amazed at what you’ll read and learn, and wonder why you didn’t do this years ago. I’m very thankful I did. The bottom line is that I will never, ever put shoes on any of my horses again!

Thanks, Christine; I couldn’t have said it better myself!

Until next time…